Saturday, July 16, 2005

Nigeria Police Force: A National Catastrophe

To say that the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is an epitome of corruption and lawlessness is an under statement- the decadence that have permeated the rank and cadre of the NPF runs deep and wide! From the a former police boss that stole million of dollars, to the killing of six innocent people in the Apo district of Abuja, and for being the ubiquitous trigger-happy, bribe-demanding highway menace. Abundant instances exist that qualifies the NPF as the Nigerian crock-pot of embarrassment, ineptitude and corruption, and it is fast turning into a national catastrophe of huge proportions.

In addition to their blatant disregard for human rights, it is also a common knowledge that when offered the right and adequate "encouragement", many Nigerian police officers can be “bought” and made to “settle scores” on ones behalf- either through simple threat and harassment, or by making your adversary serve a short jail time laced with torture, or through more heinous means that I’ll rather not mention. Some policemen have been known to aid and abet criminals. The situation is that bad, and this not hearsay- this is based on my cumulative and significant experience while living in Nigeria.

Million of dollars have been pumped into the NPF, yet the organization remains comatose, grossly inefficient, and crime rate is perennially high nationwide. The mere physical appearance of a typical policeman indicates that the many billions invested in the NPF are yet to trickle down to those of lower ranks. In fact, the majority of low ranking policemen have defended their bribe-seeking tendencies to “Lack of adequate welfare for the rank and file of the Nigeria Police Force.” Using the statement from a policeman on a highway duty published in The Punch, a Nigerian newspaper:
“Why won’t we collect 20 naira? Sometimes, you assume that policemen are receiving so much money from government. That is not true; we do not see the money. In fact, we read it in the papers the way you people also read it. Now, look at that patrol van. We fuel it from our own pockets to be able to work. We buy our own boots, uniforms and pay for our accommodation. These are things that are supposed to get to us through official funding. If you die on duty, your family suffers and if our colleagues die in the line of duty, we contribute money to take care of the burial expenses...”
What an absurdity! What a shame!

But, there may be some relevance in this statement, even if it stinks to high heavens. Obviously past efforts to revamp the NPF have not worked. We now know that the bulk of the cash needed to sustain the force went straight into the pockets of past kleptomaniac bosses, and the fact that the NPF is a federal agency may also account for the agency's gross inefficencies. A centralized hierarchy promotes corruption and inefficency, also successive federal administrations may have indirectly fueled corruption within the NPF by using it in manners that simply contravenes the tenets of law and democracy. Some Nigerians have advocated the scrapping the NPF as it this- in favor of a decentralized, regional or state force. While this may offer some autonomy, and perhaps makes community policing- a globally proven crime fighting strategy- more feasible and easier to initiate, some dissenters worry that the having a state police force could fuel “political oppression” and this portends a great to the nascent democracy in Nigeria. I was hoping that the recent national conference would deemed it fit to recommend a decentralized police force, but I was not surprised that it did not happen though; many of the delegates are really set in their ways and myopic in their views (this is a whole topic on its own).

What the NPF deserves and urgently needs is a genuine and far reaching reform that transcends the usual window dressing that is characteristic of Abuja. It is only a complete and thorough overhauling of the force coupled with adequate funding that will redeem its image and bring dignity to the rank and file. Imagine the NPF as a well maintained agency with well trained personnel? How about having a different salary structure with significantly higher remunerations and more comprehensive benefits (medical and life insurance, etc) for the personnel? The possibilities are numerous;...maybe it is just time for an outsider to set the NPF straight.